« Freakonomics Radio

2. Is America's Obesity Epidemic For Real?

2010-02-25 | 🔗
Americans keep putting on pounds. So is it time for a cheeseburger tax? Or would a chill pill be the best medicine? In this episode, we explore the underbelly of fat through the eyes of a 280-pound woman, a top White House doctor, and a couple of overweight academics.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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I now continue. The fight learn more at three m dot com, Slash cove it. There are a lot of reasons to come to New York City like going out to eat, but not everyone needs Five meals back to back all in one evening were starting it big nix on the Upper West side, its famous for assume, a burger one full pound of ground beef in any place. The best thing to do is to everything you can. I ask you in your travelling. You just have to eat everything that you can't get at home.
So it's a little after four in the afternoon, and it said Felicity Saturday afternoon evening, excursion vague makes for pizza and apparently a burger debarred, spur goodies. French rose for wine and muscle, and then we're going to Greece higher for a hot dog and magnolia for CUP can also, but we're walking was wrong Have you thought about how we can in no way This is free economic radio and you ve, got cast about the hidden side of everything in this episode. The underbelly of fat through the eyes of a two hundred eighty pound woman, atop White House, healthcare adviser and a couple of
for we are condemning here's your house Stevens Abner? I was in Chicago last week and caught up with my friend and freakin amongst co, author Steve Levitt. He took me to eat at a restaurant. He loves Charlie, try So let it! Where are we here, technocratic and when my favorite Kentucky Fried Chicken guerrilla boulevard. A rough. Never nearly a year such Gaia so saying she got a bad enough, though they have plexiglas between you and the serious. Is that any indication some of them alone, Pakistan celeb? What do you think a fat people? Nothing? I'm not one of those people who is really hate fat people. I know there are people who hate that people that are mean
one of these idiots its driven by some more I think, rather than some economic, where do you think that comes from You know me: I got nothing save on my fat people in America, they're everywhere the federal government says it to every three adults are overweight and one third of our children are officially obese. Over the past half century we ve come to consume about thirty percent, more calories each. Why well? Fattening foods are cheap abundant and, let's face it, Delicious has problems go. This is a strange one. Throughout history, people have struggled to get enough to eat. In many countries they still do and
parities, like the Gates Foundation, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to help poor children eat. More. Last week, Michelle Obama announced a ten billion dollar program to help american children eat less fat, So, as we have seen, the surgeon obesity in this country is nothing short of a public health crisis and its threatening our children is threatening our families and, more importantly, it is threatening the future of this nation. Gush. No wonder everybody hates fat people their bankrupting our nation through even threatening our nation. Security. Our military leaders report that obesity is now one of the most common. This qualifiers for military service economic experts tell us that we are spending outrageous amounts of money. Treating obesity related conditions like die
babies heart disease in cancer. Here's as equal Emmanuel, a doctor in bioethics, is whose an adviser to the Obama administration on Healthcare reform he's also the older brother, Rama Manual, the White House Chief of staff. May we all focused on health care and diabetes and heart disease, but there's all sorts of things like the simple fact that you know heavier people. Transportation is more so there's more spent. Carefully more on jet fuel people have had to change. You know the size of doorways, the size of chairs on aeroplanes and sports obedient. So there's a lot of hidden costs as well that the increasing growth of Americans were being blamed blamed for everything all the way up to global warming. This is Peggy Howl, she's, five, nine, two hundred eighty bounds. Towards a size twenty to dress. I was working for a school that was associated with a religious organisation in Northern California, and I worked I had gone
The school programme and graduated and then was working for them. I was working as a Dude and counselor. Do by Brian and doing accounts. Receivable was a small school, so we all war, many hats. And at one point, my boss, to me and told either I had to lose weight or else and said, or else what and he said or else lose your job, and I said, but I'm sorry, I don't understand what my weight has to do with my quality. To do to do my job and he said that term. The fact that my weight was our was too high was an indication that my life was out of control and that as such, that I was not fit to council other students, so
are a lot of people anti fat, because we see obesity as a moral failing, after all, we're talking about a self inflicted condition here right, but is there something else going on when it is Eric? Oliver, I'm forty three years old, I'm a professor political science at the University of Chicago and how tall you and what you weigh. I'm six feet tall, a hundred ninety pounds. I would you be my that puts me to be a my of twenty five, which is technically overweight. I have to say Eric. Oliver doesn't look at all overweight. In fact, these on the rangy side, when he discovered the his be em, I or Body mass index made him technically overweight. He began to wonder about the intersection of politics and science when it comes to obesity, when we start designating people as over weight or obese, we are immediately putting labels on. We are defining them relative to some standard of deviants and that
Self is a political act. By differentiating people according to their physicality, we immediately start creating political problems, but I think more importantly, obesity is one of these issues that the signs of obesity is very, very complicated, linking anything to chronic health and predicting any kind of chronic. Chronic health outcome is an incredibly difficult thing to do from a statistical standpoint. The interesting thing is most people Don't appreciate that fact and when they start hearing information about, though be city, they really do so. I think, based on prior conceptions and prejudices, and I think a lot of our understanding of obesity is a health issue- is informed much more by our social prejudices against fat people. Or by the particular financial incentives? Are the weight loss industry or certain public health officials or the bureaucratic politics of organizations like the Centre for Disease Control, and these Actors are really defining how oh,
city is being framed as a public health issue. More than the scientific evidence itself, Oliver has written a book called fat politics, the real story behind America's obesity epidemic. The first thing I wanted to do was established that, in fact, obesity was the health catastrophe that I assumed to be in that everybody else was claiming and the more research I read into this, the more I stirred diving into the medical journals. The more came to realize that they actually the scientific evidence linking body way to all these health technologies was far from clear cut that, in fact, the case was a very strong at all and the more research I started digging into then why that was the case. The more I started hearing about findings that were hushed politics going on within various bureaucracies, to promote certain kinds of findings and suppress other kinds of findings. Large debates within the scientific community that we're not public about the nature of will be seeing this relations
to health, and I came to quickly realise that there is a much more interesting political dimension to this than actually a scientific dimension. Wait a minute. The scientific evidence for the dangers of wheat isn't very strong. That sounds crazy. The Obama administration argues exactly the opposite. So does my doctor, his name is Conrad. Bloom I should also say that professor of clinical medicine at Columbia, University College of Physicians and surgeons, Homer wake had had the insulin resistance set go along with it. The underlying problem, causing what we call metabolic syndrome, which is a constellation of heart risk factors, including high blood, glucose levels and development of diabetes, as well as high trackless ride.
Of high blood pressure and low levels of hd I'll cholesterol. That is the good part of the blood cholesterol. And what is your level of confidence when you say that over wait drives these these diseases, as opposed to being correlated in other words, were your what's your level of confidence at this? Is causal not just correlated. My level of confidence is virtually one hundred percent higher, saying hey large number of instances where we are able to cure all of these complications of overweight and obesity by having people lose weight. So if we treat the underlying disease, which has over wait, we can handle nearly all cases. Shaded diseases disappear holy cow, whom I supposed to believe the Obama administration and my own doctor, a smart, caring professional, whose decades of experience tell me.
Losing weight, makes diseases disappear or some rogue political scientist. So here's what you have written obesity is neither a disease nor a cause of disease. I'm guessing that nine at it.
Ninety five out of a hundred people who read that we say what is he talking about? Of course, it's a disease or at least a cause of disease, and yet at the very root level, you say now explain right. The difficulty with obesity, as with any kind of chronic health issue, is that we really dont know the causal linkages between waned, who much and most diseases we do know that are being being very. Very heavy is hard on your body, it's very hard on your joints, if you're a woman, ah it causes and an increase in certain kinds of hormones which can contribute to higher rates of certain kinds of cancers. So we do know there are some causal effects of of weighing too much. But if we look at heart disease, if we look at most cancers, if we look at stroke, even if we look at diabetes- and this is probably the most contentious issue- the causal linkages between having a lot of body fat and these conditions are-
far from clear, you re that in two thousand for the centre for Disease Control estimated that obesity is killing four hundred thousand people you're right. We have that right that obesity is killing forty thousand people. This is what they issued. They issued a report, an article that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, claiming that, yes, obesity is killing foreigner thousand people here and you vehemently disagree correct well. What happened was that there are a number of problems with this report, one of which it was based on data that were about thirty years old, ah. Secondly, the report itself made some computational errors that called into question the
actual content of the findings. Their conclusions, another set of researchers from a different division within CDC then later issued a report. That said, in fact it was that number was probably only closer like twenty thousand people a year and in fact there was just there were just as many people dying from Wayne too little as there were from way too much and were back at Big Nix home of the sum of hay. While that there's a lot and surely there she is put cocktail burger. I like the sound of it, but I don't know how to get that. One Aloha Burger sounds fun. Oh god, I don't know, I think I think I'm just gonna have the Mediterranean Berger has anchovy and I love anyone else's on its it's. A grecian burger with air trophies slaves of feta cheese and tomato
second to nine. It actually says that so we eat more than we used to, and we weigh more than we used to some people think this poses a terrible danger. The first ladies, let's move programme addresses some of this. Like people's access to healthy food, we couldn't get Michelle Obama talk about her programme but as equal a manual described it for us? Well, as you may know, the first lady has launched this. Let's move campaign, which is aimed mainly at children and has four pillars. The first pillar is to improve nutrition in schools and to get more fruits and vegetables and the school lunches. The second pillar is more physical activity, so more physical activity at school, more changing the built environment, so there's more walk ways more bike pass trying to encourage participation in sports leagues, the third pillar.
Is to give people more access to food, so eliminating food deserts and such so that people in the inner city and in rural areas, where they dont, have access necessary to fresh fruit and vegetables. Our they dont have grocery stores that carry them to increase their access, and the last is the really give parents information that they need to make healthy choices so that they can have some reliable and effective information to act. Van.
Those only in passing to guide the is. How well do you think it'll work? I think I detect a bit of scepticism in your voice and I think that any single one of them alone is probably map sufficient together, as well as with they change and social attitudes around obesity and around each one of those issues eating better physical activity, food desert. I think they and make a big difference. Now, there's a couple really critical things that are missing from the let's move policy. It's been tried, fifteen different, I'm has never been that you, Brian one think is the author of mindless eating and he's a recent your Cornell who for years, have been studying how we eat. He also spent some time as a top nutrition official at the. U S, department of Agriculture, he hoped reshape the food pyramid.
When once and looks at the war on obesity, he sees a lot of people with an incentive to hype. The problem. There is a tremendous number of people who profit by hyping obesity. I don't think it's the the epidemic get alot of people like the painted as but here's your profits. There's a lot of Doctors there's a lot of very additions. There's a lot of fly by night. Super diet, drug salespeople benefit by they make in this the biggest threat to the world that there is a huge nor of academics. Benefit by doing this, because there is so much money in grants, whether it be the in age, grander, CDC or whatever, then that is out there if academic can make the case that this is a huge that world this is gonna heck. They benefit numbers in. There isn't a problem, but I am saying it gets really blown out of proportion because a lot of people who are motivated to do so, but here's the thing even today, without universal health care, the gun
pays about forty five percent of all health care costs, so I'm paying for your medical costs in your paying for mine. In fact, one economists has calculated that every time you order a cheeseburger instead of a salad, you add two dollars and fifty cents in collective, long term health care costs. Now if these costs are being driven higher every time I eat something fattening. What are you supposed to do about it? So I asked as equal Emmanuel is a time for it she's burger tax. I can answer that. I met a political question. When is the right time for it, a cheeseburger act you now. I think you got the wrong a manual brother one. I mean you know across one way, as you yourself know, and in infrequent Amex. The other alternative is to reduce the price of things that are make you healthy. So we could actually reduce the price of fruit and vegetables and incur encourage their consumption by having them.
Be more or less closely. So there are lots of ways of doing this in the taxes. You know that's just one approach in and by no means the only approach. We also know that how you display items say in the cafeteria school cafeteria, where you position them, how you make them look in terms of whether they look appetising or they look. The vegetables look wilted all that makes a difference, but how much difference do such well, meaning nudges actually make? I asked Brian one think when we look at Kelly Labeling, for instance, the people seem to have influence the most or the people already through it pretty well. Its influence of people already do. No, roughly
How many calories are in something, and I think the reason the needles not moving. Is that what it did? Is it stirred up a bunch of dust and had a bunch of bunch of people, waving, arms and clapping? It influence the people who probably really need to change cuz. They either just don't care, or it's too much effort too much effort. Why? Because eating is fun? It's social! It's life, sustaining it's finger, lickin good. So how are we supposed to think about all this Americans? Have heavier, but this might not be as dangerous as we ve come to think. A lot of smart people are working hard to get Americans to eat better, but given the courts of human nature, alot of this effort will likely be wasted and then there's Eric Oliver
who says the reason so many people think fat is so dangerous is because obesity, researchers, even those right for top medical journals, are woefully unsophisticated when it comes to statistical analysis and that they failed to prove that fat is the cause of health problems like diabetes and heart disease, so itself like you're, saying that calories are relatively cheap and that's good because we need calories and we enjoy them, and that's not bad because way in and of itself is not dangerous. So really, what might be the best medicine is for everybody just relax a little bit exactly. This is ask Limburger an ice cream murder. Maybe we can you tell me, what's in the entropy like each other will get worse, in the middle of an election? strawberry, beautiful.
this episode of Freaking out Miss radios produced by Stephen Doug, you, my twenty four point: eight normal wood production out for Molly Webster, twenty one, just perfect, Clayton weight and Jesse Baker. The winner with the twenty point, four p m. I subscribe to this part cast on Itunes and look at the next session In your sleep gonna for economics, dot com to read more about hidden side, everything thanks for listening If you thought you had to travel far over the Paddy Bang up today, It's the pastries of parents, taken up with two times total points. A grocery stores, your same kitchen can come with more cuisines. Sapphire preferred from chase make more,
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Transcript generated on 2021-03-19.